Your Surgeon is a Snake

This week is turning out to be a banner week for robots.  Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal front page article featured a story about Georgia Tech’s Robot Chicken Deboner (click to: see video).  While that sounded tasty, I am compelled to tell you the story about “Snakes on Plane”, well almost, at least the robotic kind slithering through your veins.

The scientists of Carnegie Mellon have dreamed up a new type of robotic (micro) snake that can seek and destroy viruses and ailments in your body. The research started almost 10 years ago.  Today, most major hospitals have a department of robotics, so the concept of a broader mechanical tool is not foreign to the operating theater.  The unique concept is the ability of the tiny robotic to crawl through ones veins and identify diseases or perform operations by using an array of microscopic cameras, scissors, and forceps. Current models deployed act as surgeon’s aid, but it is foreseeable that the day will come when robotic snakes roam through one’s body on their own.  According to Michael Argenziano, the chief of adult cardiac surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center in New York, “it won’t be very long before we have robots that are nanobots, meaning they will actually be inside the body without tethers,”

Argenziano was one of the first involved in the FDA’s robotic heart surgery more than 10 years ago, and claims that snake robots are commonly used tools in his hospital, they are like “little hands inside the patients, as if the surgeon had been shrunken, and was working on the heart valve.”

The brain child of the ‘Snake-Bot’ is Howie Choset who built the slitering devices to make surgeries faster and cheaper.  Choset has had many iterations, but today’s bot is about the size of a dime with amazing flexibility to navigate the sinews of the body with the least amount of damage, thus reducing recovery time.  Besides being deployed in cardiac units, the snake-bot is used in other critical diseases, such as removing tumors and identifying cancer growths.

While robots are far from the magic cure, we are living in  an exciting and hopeful era of medicine.  I can still hear Bones from Star Trek calling 20th Century doctors “barbarians”,  now we might be able to finally go where no robot has gone before. Beam me up!

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